A new bill introduced in the Alabama Legislature would make it illegal for church clergy to have sexual interactions with children and teens under 19 years old.

House Bill 125, sponsored by State Rep. Leigh Hulsey (R-Helena), creates the crime of unlawful sex acts committed by clergy.

"This bill would provide that it is unlawful for a minister, priest, rabbi, bishop, or other recognized member of the clergy in a position of trust or authority over a person to commit certain sex acts with an individual under 19 years of age, or a protected person under 22 years of age," the bill states. "This bill would also provide for penalties."

Specifically, the law would make it illegal for a bishop, any recognized member of the clergy, staff member or volunteer to engage in sexual intercourse or sodomy with a person under the age of 19 or 22 in some cases.

A woman who asked only to be referred to by her first name, Ivy, talked to 1819 News about why HB125 is so important. As a victim herself, she said she was groomed by her youth director from ages 12 to 15 and abused by him from ages 16 to 19.

"I started going to the church in Hueytown around 12 years old," she remembered. "I got involved with the youth group and my abuser ended up becoming my legal godfather, so I lived with him and his family."

The age difference between the two was about 20 years, but with him having so much influence in her life, Ivy said she trusted him. Now, she knows the lasting effect sexual abuse can have on children.

"There have been various experiences," Ivy told 1819 News. "Emotional trauma, spiritual trauma, physical trauma. I have been in therapy but it's expensive and now I can't afford it."

"It's affected me personally in every way it could," she continued. "I have trust issues, PTSD and I have trust issues with the church. I have trust issues with men in the church. I have seen how churches cover it up and excuse it away."

Ivy said she didn't get the confidence to report the crime until she was an adult. She realized when she went to the police that nothing would be done.

"I left disappointed obviously. Even though I knew that would be the case because I didn't say no and I wasn't held down," Ivey explained. "I went there and then said something has got to change. There are laws that protect students from teachers so there should be the same thing for church leaders."

So, Ivy spoke with attorneys about what could be done. When she learned of Husley's effort, she made a point of going public to push for the bill to be passed.

"I decided nothing can be done for me but for the future and for future boys and girls, something can be done," she added.

In Alabama, the legal age of consent for sexual activity is 16. Ivy told 1819 News that's why it's important this bill passes.

"There is nothing protecting kids because they can abuse for years and groom for years, then they know once they hit 16 there is nothing holding them accountable," she said. "Once they have you groomed and convinced, then they're good and my abuser knew that."

Also included in the law is a provision for anyone who sends a child inappropriate or sexual material.

Intercourse or sodomy with an underage person would be a class C felony. Sexual contact, including harassment, enticement or solicitation, would be a Class C felony.

HB125 is currently pending committee action in the House.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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